It is as clear an image to me as any other from my childhood: the blue 45 label with the butterfly logo and the song title “Call Me” by Blondie (funny that I don’t remember the whole “theme from American Gigolo thing). I was 5 in 1980, the year the song came out, and everything about it had a profound effect on me. I remember the record playing in the basement with the shag salt-and-pepper carpet, and I distinctly remember thinking the disco-pop-rock intro and Debbie Harry’s edgy, aggressive vocals were just about the most exciting things I’d ever heard. Of course, my musical repertoire to that point had consisted of the Grease soundtrack, The Greatest American Hero theme song and a Strawberry Shortcake album featuring Strawberry and her fruit-scented pals singing classics like “The Candy Man” and “Animal Crackers in my Soup.” But my musical naiveté ended as soon as Blondie came into my life, only the first of a long list of female musical influences who helped shape my understanding of what it means to be a woman.Okay, so that last sentence sounded a bit ridiculous. But when I got to thinking about all the truly awesome chicks who have rocked out over the last 30 years, I recognized that having such diverse and strong musical role models really did play a huge part in shaping who I am today. Things were changing for women in the ’80s in the wake of the Equal Rights movement, and many of us girls had mothers who worked outside of the home. Most of us were told by our moms and our dads (and our Barbie commercials) that we could do whatever we wanted in life, and we saw women like Sally Ride, Sandra Day O’Connor and Geraldine Ferraro break barriers that even as young kids we knew were important. So it’s sort of strange to look back now and understand that our parents had only recently started to blaze the trails that we would then run right over without ever seeing how newly paved they were. My favorite female musical influences showed me and millions of girls like me that they could not only hold their own in a “man’s world” but they could absolutely rock just as hard.
If I knew I could be anything I wanted to be at a young age, it took me a while longer to get over the idea that women should be feminine and pretty and frilly and soft. I think that’s why I hated Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders when I was young. Her androgynous, leather-clad, husky-throated rock was just too masculine. It confused me. I’ve since come to recognize Chrissie as one of the preeminent trailblazers for women in rock. She is at her sassiest in this gem:
You can’t be a woman my age and not idolize Madonna. But I must admit I was terrified by her supercharged sexiness when I was a kid. That’s why I liked her “Material Girl” video — I was much more comfortable with her playing an über-hot Marilyn Monroe than a trashy, roll-on-the-hood-of-a-car street-walker.
By the time I was in high school, I had shifted my devotion away from traditional pop princesses toward women rockers who exuded an understated cool. Natalie Merchant was at the top of the list. I didn’t just love everything about her, I actually wanted to be her.
Luscious Jackson was all-girl hipster magic before hipster was even a word. I’ll admit I wasn’t a super-fan of the band, but I did often envision me and my friends starring in the video to this piece of alt-rock perfection:
So…I’m an adult now. I suppose I’ve made a little something of myself, and I continue to try to improve upon the “I am woman hear me roar” example I set for those young, impressionable girls I see each day. But even though I’m all growns up, I’m still so inspired by today’s rockin’ chicks who perform with such strength, style and gumption. And I’m delighted that there are more examples than ever for us to look up to: